Andrew Polmear

Is there something fishy in your glass?

Philip Reddaway, The Whistler’s wine columnist, muses on what might be in your glass…

Here in the Rhone valley we are surrounded by organic wine domaines. The combination of hot, dry summers and the fierce Mistral winds that follow any rain that does fall, provides the perfect conditions for organic viticulture. We also encounter an increasing number of biodynamic producers. All very confusing for the English visitor as the French word for organic is ‘bio’, but woe betide those who mistake the biodynamic vigneron for just an organic producer. He will make a Gallic gesture and tell you in a heavy Provencal accent that the ‘AB’ (Agriculture Biologique – organic to us) label may certify that a wine comes from grapes free of chemical treatments, but it tells you nothing about what kind of interference goes on in the winery.
But surely wine making is a natural, even vegetarian product? Not necessarily so. Organic and non-organic aids to wine making have a long history in the industry. Here are a few of the unexpected interlopers that might be in your glass of wine tonight:

  • Egg Whites: used for red wine clarification, especially top Burgundy or those French wines expected to age. About 5 eggs are used per barrel. The object of fining? To coagulate and absorb those microscopic particles, known as colloids, that, left within, might lead the wine to become hazy or cloudy.
    Whole Milk: possible fining agent for some red wines.
  • Gelatine: used to clarify either red wine, white wine or beer and also used as a finishing agent to add the final touch of quality and clarity to the wine without impacting the taste.
    Isinglass: a particularly pure protein prepared from the bladder of the sturgeon fish and other fresh water fish, used to fine mostly red wines. As early as 1660 King Charles II of England regulated the use of Isinglass by merchant vintners.
  • Gum Arabic: from the acacia tree, a natural clarifying agent more often associated with the soft drinks industry but used by many wine makers.
  • Bentonite: a fining agent used primarily in white wines, made from a compound of aluminium and silicon which is mined in Wyoming, USA.
  • If all that sounds a bit worrying, no need to switch to Vodka and tonic just yet; these curious wine-making tools are used in the most miniscule quantities. You would have to be born on the planet Krypton to detect a whiff of “soupe de poisson” in your glass of burgundy!

    If you are interested in one of our Provence based wine holidays please visit www.rhonewineholidays.com, or if you just want a fabulous place to stay as you drive through France we now do bed and breakfast – see www.bighouseinprovence.com.

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